Case against British veterans collapses in death of IRA leader Joe McCann

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May 4 (UPI) — A Northern Irish judge on Tuesday acquitted two British army veterans on charges they murdered an unarmed Irish Republican Army leader nearly five decades ago.

The case in the Crown Court in Belfast collapsed after prosecutors declined to appeal a ruling that statements the two former soldiers gave about the shooting were inadmissible. The veterans were identified in court only as Soldier A and Soldier C.

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IRA Commander Joe McCann, 24, died in 1972 when the two soldiers opened fire on him during what’s known as The Troubles — the conflict over whether Northern Ireland should remain part of the United Kingdom or join with the Republic of Ireland. The IRA sought independence from British rule.

Prosecutors said British soldiers shot McCann, who was unarmed, dead as he attempted to run away and evade arrest.

The two soldiers gave statements about the incident to the army in 1972 after the shooting occurred and again in 2010 to the Historical Investigations Team. The judge ruled the statements were inadmissible because the soldiers had given them without legal representation.

Prosecutors declined to fight the court’s ruling, collapsing the case since it had no further evidence.

A solicitor for McCann’s family, Niall Murphy, said that despite the ruling, the government is still responsible for murder.

“This ruling does not mean that Joe McCann was not murdered by the British army,” he told reporters outside the courthouse.

“He was shot in the back whilst unarmed, from a distance of 40 meters, posing no threat. It was easier to arrest him than to murder him.”

Murphy said the family plans to apply for an inquiry to be reopened so that the soldiers be questioned again.